Opening Bell: 05.01.07

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Report Assails Wal-Mart Over Unions [NYT]
Not at all breaking news: Wal-Mart doesn’t treat it workers that well. A study by Human Rights Watch that was published yesterday asserted that the ‘Mart has vigorously attempted to keep its employees out of labor unions, violating federal law and—wait for it—workers’ rights. And while the rest of its business may be in the toilet, Wal-Mart has been largely successful in this effort: out of 1.3 million workers in almost 4,000 stores in the United States not one of them belongs to a union. While HRW conceded that there are a lot of companies in America that try and stop personnel from organizing, this particular “retail giant stands out for the sheer magnitude and aggressiveness of its anti-union apparatus.” Replied Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar (remarkably, with a straight face), “It is because of our efforts to foster such an environment that our associates have repeatedly rejected unionization attempts.” Rumor has it that now only takes 17 years to earn your free Polo Appreciation gift.
TXU chief to net $279m in TPG buyout [Times Online]
Immediately following the TPG buy-out, John Wilder’s TXU options will vest, awarding him almost $280 million. Wilder was compensated $17.12 million in 2006, so this would be, as they say, considerably more. The payment is part of a “change of control clause” in Wilder’s contract with the company that he joined in 2004. Apropos, the deal is currently being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible insider trading, which probably won’t amount to anything but would add some much appreciated drama to the staid old leveraged buy-out.
ABN faces new suit as takeover battle heats up (Reuters)
An ABN AMRO investor has thrown a wrench in the Barclays takeover/sale of LaSalle plan, by filing a class action suit against the bank, claiming the directors “failed in their duties.” Halpert Enterprises asserted in a filing in New York that “The proposed sale is wrongful, unfair and harmful to ABN’s public stockholders, and represents and effort by defendants to aggrandize their own financial position and interests at the expense of and to the detriment of ABN's public stockholders.” Halpert would like ABN to go back on its word re: selling LaSalle and ponder alternatives to being taken over by Barclays, arguing that, as it as structured now, the acquisition in question is a deal preferential to the management exclusively, and “does not represent the maximized value that ABN shareholders are entitled to." Bank of America has indicated that will not take this sitting down, and will “take legal action” if the deal falls through. Meouch, indeed.

Halliburton Says It Has No Plans To Go Back To Iran
(NYS)
Halliburton vice president and corporate secretary Sherry Williams testified before the Senate yesterday and said that it won’t be returning to Iran, now that has completed its contracts there, contradicting chief executive David Lesar’s comment that the company would go back if conditions changed (i.e. people stopped criticizing it for “exploiting a loophole in federal economic sanctions against Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism”). The two did, thankfully, have their stories straight concerning the real need for “another one of those Katrinas.” They also promised to send lawmakers “The weather is here, wish you were beautiful” postcards as soon as they returned to Dubai, which is quite lovely this time of year.


Wolfowitz hints he may be prepared to resign (The Guardian)
World Bank president Paul Wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing-owitz may resign, but only if charges against him over using the organization’s resources to get him laid are dropped. Wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing-owitz claimed at a “special” board meeting last night that the exceedingly generous pay package he’d awarded his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, was totally legit, and that anything said against him is “unjust and hypocritical.” He noted that “The goal of this smear campaign, I believe, is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that I am an ineffective leader and must step down for that reason alone. I will not resign in the face of a plainly bogus charge of conflict of interest.” Once he is cleared of these absurd accusations, however, he will (possibly) resign, because he paid good money for that condo in Florida, and pretending to get mad about pretty much completely dead-on allegations has really taken a toll on his back.
Ex-UN deputy to help run Soros fund (FT)
George Soros has appointed Sir Mark Malloch Brown, the most recent deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, as vice-chairman of his Quantum hedge funds. In a letter to the shareholders, Soros wrote that Brown will “help create opportunities for [Soros Fund Management] and the fund around the world, with his extensive international contacts…[Brown will also] explore the development of innovative methods to use the international capital markets to address the needs of developing countries, while creating unique investment opportunities for the fund.” Sir Mark was also a vice-president of the World Bank for five years, and was seen as a possible candidate to replace Wolfowitz (if he, you know, resigns for not doing anything wrong).

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Opening Bell: 08.15.12

Standard Chartered Faces Fed Probes After N.Y. Deal (Bloomberg) Regulators including the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve, Justice Department and Manhattan District Attorney declined attempts at a global settlement, said two people familiar with the matter. A coordinated effort was already in progress before New York’s unilateral deal, announced yesterday by financial regulator Benjamin Lawsky, one of the people said. The agreement doesn’t take into account all of the bank’s alleged violations, including those involving nations such as Sudan, said one of the people, who added that September is the earliest a universal deal may be reached. Paulson Steps Up Gold Bet To 44% Of Firm’s Equity Assets (Bloomberg) John Paulson raised his stake in an exchange-traded fund tracking the price of gold while selling other stocks during the second quarter, leaving his $21 billion hedge fund with more than 44 percent of its U.S. traded equities tied to bullion. Paulson & Co. purchased an additional 4.53 million shares of the SPDR Gold Trust, the firm’s largest position, and bought more shares of NovaGold Resources Inc, according to a Form 13F filed yesterday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Goldman Sachs, SkyBridge Among Mitt Romney's Hedge Fund Bundlers (AR) FYI. Brevan Howard Raising Money In U.S. For Currency Hedge Fund (Bloomberg) London-based Brevan Howard filed an Aug. 9 private- placement notice with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to raise an unspecified amount of assets for its Macro FX fund. The $1 billion currency fund is managed by Luke Ding, a former Merrill Lynch & Co. foreign exchange trader who joined Brevan Howard in 2007. Greece Staves Off Default (WSJ) Greece successfully staved off a default on debts owed to the European Central Bank, as more information dribbled out on the parlous state of its economy and banking system. The Greek economy shrank 6.2% year-on-year in the second quarter, European Union statistics agency Eurostat estimated on Tuesday, and senior bankers said more than 20% of loans to the domestic economy are now officially nonperforming. They warned that the problem may overwhelm the sector and derail the country's bailout program. He Whipped, She Snapped (NYP) Frankie Santiago embraced a role as live-in fetish slave to dominating Manhattan investment-banker beau Edward Sonderling, playing out a bondage fantasy similar to college student Anastasia Steele and older Christian Grey in the erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.” But it all took a twisted turn when Santiago, 27, found out Sonderling, 53, had been training his whips on her replacement. The submissive Santiago exploded in a fit of rage, law-enforcement sources said, allegedy shattering Sonderling’s car windshield and bombarding him with dozens of text threats. “If I ever see you with her I will not hold back. I have nothing to lose,” Santiago railed in one text. “I hope she has a disease you catch.” Santiago — who is known in the bondage-domination S&M community as Althea Lyn — was arrested Monday after what sources said was a knock-down, drag-out fight with Sonderling at the East 57th Street apartment where she once did his daily bidding. Santiago and Sonderling — who has the body of a much younger man and is known as King Eddo — were regulars on Manhattan’s BDSM circuit, where Sonderling boasted of being a “whipping aficionado,” said a source who knows the pair. A Horace Mann and Brown graduate, Sonderling runs his own firm, Priority Investors LLC, He declined to comment on Santiago’s arrest and his extracurricular BDSM activities. “I don’t think that I have anything to say about it. Why would I?” he said. Fund Managers Unload Big Banks (WSJ) Some well-known money managers reported significantly reduced stakes in big banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., as well as food companies such as Kraft Foods Inc. in the second quarter. Billionaire investor George Soros's Soros Fund Management LLC eliminated positions in J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman, as well as Citigroup Inc., according to a regulatory filing late Tuesday. The investment company also reported a new stake in retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and a 341,000-share stake in Facebook Inc. Goldman executives win dismissal of mortgage, TARP lawsuit (Reuters) Goldman Sachs Group Inc Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and other bank officials won the dismissal of a shareholder lawsuit accusing them of tolerating poor mortgage practices and quitting a federal bailout program early to boost executive pay. U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan said the shareholders failed to show there were "red flags" to put bank directors on notice of "broken controls" in Goldman's mortgage servicing business, including that workers at its Litton unit may have been "robo-signing" documents. Pauley also cited a similar lack of red flags to suggest directors knew Goldman was packaging troubled loans in residential mortgage-backed securities, including loans the bank sold "short" in a bet they would lose value. The judge also said the plaintiffs did not show that directors acted in bad faith in letting Goldman repay $10 billion taken from the Troubled Asset Relief Program early, in June 2009, freeing the bank from restrictions on executive pay. Giuliani: Biden Lacks ‘Mental Capacity’ for VP Job (CNBC) “I've never seen a vice president that has made as many mistakes, said as many stupid things,” he said on “The Kudlow Report.” “I mean, there’s a real fear if, God forbid, he ever had to be entrusted with the presidency, whether he really has the mental capacity to handle it. I mean, this guy just isn’t bright. He’s never been bright. He isn’t bright. And people think, ‘Well, he just talks a little too much.’ Actually, he’s just not very smart.”